Published by HarperCollins on March 17, 2009
Genres: Philosophy, Literary Fiction
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Twenty-four-year-old Veronika seems to have everything -- youth and beauty, boyfriends and a loving family, a fulfilling job. But something is missing in her life. So, one cold November morning, she takes a handful of sleeping pills expecting never to wake up. But she does -- at a mental hospital where she is told that she has only days to live.
Inspired by events in Coelho's own life, Veronika Decides to Die questions the meaning of madness and celebrates individuals who do not fit into patterns society considers to be normal. Bold and illuminating, it is a dazzling portrait of a young woman at the crossroads of despair and liberation, and a poetic, exuberant appreciation of each day as a renewed opportunity.
You know how there are just certain things in life that your brain simply cannot comprehend no matter how hard you try? For me, that’s philosophy. Philosophy seems like something that should totally work for me, but the bigger picture, that moment of clarity, of understanding, NEVER comes. I signed up for Philosophy 101 in University and I’m not sure if I had the worst teacher known to man but I walked out less than halfway through the first class. The sole exception to this has been The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet. Say what you want, but that shit is legit. Veronika could take a lesson or two from Pooh Bear.
So, Veronika decides to die. That’s not a spoiler, clearly.
‘When she had achieved almost everything she wanted in life, she had reached the conclusion that her existence had no meaning, because every day was the same. And she had decided to die.’
She decides, over a period of months where she begins collecting sleeping pills, that there is essentially no more point to life because she’s already accomplished everything. So why continue to live it? Veronika takes the pills yet she’s discovered by an unknown individual and wakes to find herself in Villete, the infamous mental hospital. She’s devastated to find that she didn’t succeed in her task but is informed by the doctor that she damaged her heart irreparably and that she has less than a week to live. Initially, this book started off strong and it seemed as if it would be an interesting look into the workings of a mental illness but Paulo Coelho opted to go for a philosophical angle instead which flawed the whole point he was trying to make. Within these short 191 pages, we’re introduced to other individuals currently staying at Villete: a woman with acute anxiety and a man with schizophrenia which are all meant to be traits of Coelho himself who was institutionalized when he was young.
‘In a world where everyone struggles to survive whatever the cost, how could one judge those people who decide to die? No one can judge. Each person knows the extent of their own suffering, or the total absence of meaning in their lives.’
There is much confusion when it comes to the medical aspects of the novel and the even more ridiculous plot twist. In a nutshell, this story is about reveling in our differences, the fact that what society views as “insanity” isn’t necessarily so, and the necessity for finding the beauty in each new day of life. While I understand what Paulo Coelho was intending with this story, taking a serious subject like attempted suicide and giving it a picture perfect (and unrealistic) ending made it all so very contrived.